Category: History

RIP: Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte (born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr.), the singer, actor and activist died today from congestive heart failure.  Mr. Belafonte was 96.

After graduation from high school Mr. Belafonte served in the Navy.  Following his time in the service he got work as a janitor’s assistant. It was during this period that Harry Belafonte attended the American Negro Theater and decided he wanted to be a performer.  It was also when he developed a friendship with Sidney Poitier.

Harry Belafonte began singing in nightclubs to help pay for his acting classes.  Along the way he performed with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis before getting a record contract.

Harry Belafonte began taking acting classes at The Dramatic Workshop of the New School.  There he studied along with future stars such as Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis and Walter Mathhau.

In 1954, Harry Belafonte received a Tony Award for his part in the Broadway revue John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.  In 1956, Mr. Belafonte’s album Calypso became the first to sell one million copies in a year.  Harry Belafonte would go on to released 49 albums.

In 1953, Harry Belafonte appeared in the feature film Bright Road.  The following year he appeared in his breakout role in Carmen Jones.  For the rest of his career, Mr. Belafonte would perform on stage, recording or performing live and acting in feature films or on television.

Some of Harry Belafonte’s feature film performances include: Bright Road; Carmen Jones; Island in the Sun; The World, The Flesh and the Devil; Odds Against Tomorrow; Buck and the Preacher and Uptown Saturday Night.

Some of Harry Belafonte’s television appearances include:  Front Row Center; The Ed Sullivan Show (10 episodes); The Steve Allen Show; Tonight With Belafonte; The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; The Tonight Show; The Flip Wilson Show; The Muppet Show; Grambling’s White Tiger and An Evening with Harry Belafonte and Friends.

Throughout his life, Harry Belafonte was an humanitarian activist.  He supported Civil Rights causes. Harry Belafonte became a friend and confidant to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Harry Belafonte helped to bring together artists to perform on We Are The World, the Grammy Award-winning song used to raise funds for Africa. He served as an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for over 35 years, the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues, the cultural advisor to the Peace Corps

Harry Belafonte won three Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award (1960 for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series for “Tonight with Belafonte”), a Tony Award (1954 for Best Featured Actor in a Musical), a Kennedy Centers Honors Award (1989 for lifetime contributions to the performing arts); a National Medal of Arts Award (1994, highest honor given to artists and patrons of the arts by the United States government),  the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (2014, by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for an individual’s “outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes”),  and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2022 as an Early Influencer).

Harry Belafonte’s talent was unsurpassed and may only be matched by his dedication to humanitarian efforts.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Harry Belafonte’s family, friends and fans.

“The Yoke’s on Me” (1944) starring The Three Stooges / Z-View

The Yoke’s on Me (1944)

Director:  Jules White

Writer:  Clyde Buckman

Stars: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard and Al Thompson.

Tagline:  None.

The Plot…

When our boys are determined to be unfit for military service, they decide to aide the war effort by becoming farmers.  They buy a run-down farm and hope to make a go of it.  One day the sheriff warns our guys to be on guard. A group of Japanese-Americans have escaped from a “relocation center”.  Later the escapees show up on the farm.  Let the hijinks begin.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

The Three Stooges shorts, like many films of the era, sometimes featured things that modern audiences find distasteful.  And rightly so.  The Yoke’s on Me (1944) is often considered to be the worst offender.  For many years The Yoke’s on Me was never shown on television rebroadcasts.  The antagonists aren’t Japanese soldiers, spies or criminals.  They are American citizens who were rounded up and put in prison camps.

With that said, there are still some funny bits in The Yoke’s on Me.  It’s unfortunate that they are over-shadowed by the choice of “bad guys”.

The Yoke’s on Me (1944) (1944) rates 3 of 5 stars.

“Bill Russell: Legend” (2023) / Z-View

Bill Russell: Legend (2023)

Director:  Sam Pollard

Stars: Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Satch Sanders, Bill Walton, Jeannine Russell, Jalen Rose, Karen Russell, Lawrence O’Donnell, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Stephen Curry, Bill Bradley, Shaquille O’Neal, Earl Monroe  and Chris Paul.

Tagline:  He Changed More Than the Game

The Plot…

Bill Russell: Legend explores Russell’s life on and off the basketball court. Archival news reports as well as interviews with Bill Russell, his contemporaries, current athletes and sportswriters round out this two part series.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Bill Russell is considered by many the greatest basketball player of all time.  He made every team he played on the best. Bill Russell led his high school team to two California State High School Championships.  In college his team won two back-to-back NCAA titles.  As an Olympian, the U.S. basketball team won a Gold Medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. When he went into the NBA his team, the Boston Celtics won 11 championships in his thirteen-year career. The last two were won with Bill Russell playing and serving as the coach!  “He has more NBA championship rings than he has fingers.”

Off the court Bill Russell was a man concerned with civil rights and world events.  He was a proud man that felt that the things he did off the court were more important.  I am not the biggest basketball fan in the world, but I give Bill Russell: Legend my highest recommendation.

Bill Russell: Legend (2023) rates 5 of 5 stars.

“Narvik: Hitler’s First Defeat” (2022) / Z-View

Narvik: Hitler’s First Defeat (2022)

Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

Writers: Cristoph Grøndahl, story by Live Bonnevie, Erik Skjoldbaerg, Sebastian Torngren Wartin

Stars: Kristine Hartgen, Carl Martin Eggesbø and Billy Campbell.

Tagline:  None.

The Plot…

1940.  World War II rages.  Norway is a neutral country.  Because most of the world’s iron ore passes through the port at Narvik, both England and Nazi Germany have diplomats in the city.  In April, a force of German soldiers arrive in the city as part of a takeover.

Ingrid Tofte (Hartgen) is a young, married hotel worker.  Her husband, Gunnar (Eggesbø) is a corporal in the Norwegian army. Ingrid and Gunnar have a baby that is their world.  When the Nazis arrive, Gunnar is part of a unit sent to blow-up a bridge to delay Nazi advancement.  Ingrid, because she speaks two languages is picked to help Nazis as they attempt their takeover of the city.  If either Ingrid or Gunnar are exposed both will surely be executed.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Narvik is at it’s best when showing the dangers and choices that individuals are forced to make as the Nazis move in.  Some choose to wage war while others lay down their arms.  It would be a difficult choice to fight. You’re facing overwhelming odds and then your commanding officer hands over his pistol to the invading commandant!  Some soldiers dropped their weapons, took off their uniforms and ran away.  Others find a different officer and plan for future attacks.

Civilians had to make tough decisions to make as well.  Cooperate with the Nazis and lose your way of life. Try to run or stay and fight and you could lose your life.  If you had small children, the decision was even more difficult.  And if your child’s life is on the line, what would you do?

If I had any nits to pick, it would be with the film’s length.  When the tension is on and the battles are raging, the film is at it’s best.

Narvik: Hitler’s First Defeat (2022) rates 3 of 5 stars.

Andy Kaufman Soon To Be a WWE Hall of Fame Wrestler!

Today Joe Otterson at Variety posted  Andy Kaufman to Be Inducted Into WWE Hall of Fame.  Good for Andy and good for the WWE.  I say that without any hint of sarcasm.  While I was never a fan of Kaufman’s comedy, nor a pro wrestling fan when Kaufman’s career led him to the squared circle, I do believe he should be in the WWE Hall of Fame.

Andy Kaufman’s humor was always a bit too bizarre for me.  I hadn’t watched professional wrestling since I was a kid in Indiana.  Yet, when there was an Andy Kaufman / Pro Wrestling crossover, something special happened.  Remember this was a time when everyone involved in professional ‘rasslin’ went to great lengths to make sure fans believed all that happened inside and outside the ring was real.

Andy Kaufman began showing up at professional wrestling arenas where he would declare himself the Women’s Champion of the World.  While one would normally think that was stupid-funny (and it was), what it did was enrage fans.  Kaufman began getting matches against women and of course he beat them, which only made people more upset.

Then Kaufman appeared on David Letterman’s show with Jerry “The King” Lawler.  Lawler was a babyface, aka a favorite of professional wrestling fans.  Kaufman and Lawler got into an argument.  Lawler ending up slapping Kaufman out of his chair.  Letterman appeared to be shocked as Lawler stormed off set and Kaufman needed medical assistance.  The encounter blew up and was reported everywhere. Kaufman actually checked himself into a hospital and stayed there for several days!  Of course this led to a series of sold out arenas where Kaufman and Lawler would battle.  Behind the scenes the two were buddies and raking in bank.

If you talk to professional wrestling fans, probably 99% know about the Andy Kaufman/Jerry Lawler/David Letterman incident.  What’s even crazier is the high percentage of non-wrestling fans who know about it over 40 years later.  So yeah, I say, Andy Kaufman deserves to be in the Wrestling Hall of Fame.  Hats off to the WWE for making it happen.

“Is That Black Enough for You?!? (2022)” written & directed by Elvis Mitchell

Is That Black Enough for You?!? (2022)

Director:  Elvis Mitchell

Writer: Elvis Mitchell

Stars: Elvis Mitchell (voice), Margaret Avery, Harry Belafonte, Suzanne De Passe, Antonio Fargas, Laurence Fishburne, Sheila Frazier, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Glynn Turman, Mario Van Peebles, Billy Dee Williams  and Zendaya

Tagline: Is That Black Enough For You?!? How One Decade Forever Changed the Movies (And Me)”

The Plot…

Elvis Mitchell, the writer and director of Is That Black Enough for You?!?, is a film scholar and film critic.  Here he explores the history and impact that African-American cinema had on all films and American culture.  There is an emphasis on the 1970s.  The film makes use of film clips as well as interviews with many of the artists who lived through this period.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

I greatly enjoyed Is That Black Enough for You?!?.  The two hours and 15 minutes flew by.  It was interesting to see the history of how African-Americans were portrayed in movies and the impact the late 60s and early 70s had when more black artists were able to take control of their films.  The interviews are the glue that holds it all together,  The film clips reminded me of many movies I’d seen in my youth and many more I’d like to see.

When the film was over, it left me wanting to dig deeper into the history of black artists such as Paul Robeson, Mantan Moreland (who sadly wasn’t mentioned), Oscar Micheaux and many others.  The topic is so huge it would be hard to cover in just one film and I’m sure that fed in to Mitchell’s decision to focus on the late 60s though the mid 70s.  I would love to see a streaming series that took a deeper look.  Elvis Mitchell, are you listening?

Is That Black Enough for You?!? (2022) earns 4 of 5 stars.

13 Authors Whose Deaths Were Stranger Than Fiction!

Lorna Wallace at Mental Floss posted 13 Authors Whose Deaths Were Stranger Than Fiction.  It’s worth a read.  My guess is you’ll be surprised to read about the author who died because…

  • of a toothpick
  • an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head
  • he died laughing (two authors!)
  • your choice: murder, flu, a brain tumor, rabies, or cooping
  • his hotel room wasn’t cleaned well enough
  • he chose snow over salt
  • and more…

“The Raven” (2012) starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans and Brendan Gleeson / Z-View

The Raven (2012)

Director:  James McTeigue

Writer: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare

Stars: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill, Sam Hazeldine, Pam Ferris, Dave Legeno  and Michael Shannon

Tagline:  The only one who can stop a serial killer is the man who inspired him.

The Plot…

When a serial killer uses methods from Edgar Allan Poe stories to dispatch his victims, Detective Fields (Evans) reluctantly turns to Poe (Cusak) for help.  This only inspires the demented killer to up the ante by kidnapping Poe’s  fiancée and setting a timeline for her murder.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Edgar Allan Poe may have been an insufferable alcoholic, but to make an insufferable alcoholic the sympathetic hero of a movie is a tall order.  I did like how the ending aligns with real-life events in Poe’s life.

Luke Evans and Brendan Gleeson are welcome additions in any movie and they shine in The Raven.

My favorite scene is the night of the party when a masked rider (the killer?) enters the ballroom on horseback.

Had the movie centered on Detective Fields a sequel would have been very cool since the final scenes seem to set it up.

The Raven (2012) earns 3 of 5 stars.

O.J. Simpson: Blood, Lies & Murder (2023) / Z-View

O.J. Simpson: Blood, Lies & Murder (2023)

Stars: Tom Lange, Rod Englert, Kato Kaelin, Allan Park, O.J. Simpson

Tagline: None.

Synopsis…

O.J. Simpson: Blood, Lies & Murder revisits the trial of the century.  It explores evidence collected (some which wasn’t used in the trial) at the murder scene as well as OJ’s house and features current interviews with Tom Lange, Rod Englert, Kato Kaelin and Allan Park.

Tom Lange was the lead detective investigating the murders of Nicole Kidman and Ron Goldman. Lange kept a personal case journal which is shared for the first time.   Rod Englert is a Crime Scene Reconstructionist.  He’s an expert in blood splatter and able to use evidence from murder scenes to determine how the killings took place. Kato Kaelin was a material witness who lived in OJ’s guest house.  Allan Park was the limo driver who took OJ to the airport the night of the murders.

The murders are discussed in detail.  Graphic crime scene photos are shown.  There is a recreation of the murders, based on the evidence collected.  The prosecution and defense strategies are discussed.  Evidence that didn’t make it into the trial is shared.  The “not guilty” verdict is discussed and reasons the jury went that way.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

I cannot stress enough how disturbing the crime scene photos are.  O.J. Simpson: Blood, Lies & Murder doesn’t shy away from sharing them in order for viewers to understand the brutality and overkill of the murderer.  This documentary is not for the squeamish.  I had mixed feelings about the use of the photos.  Without them viewers have a sanitized version of the crime.  Seeing them and the brutality involved is tough.

I remember when I heard that OJ was a suspect in the double murder case which involved his wife.  Like many Americans, I didn’t believe OJ, the great athlete and movie star, would do such a thing.  Then there was the slow speed chase, followed by the trial.  I watched with interest every day.  The twists and turns were unbelievable.  So was the verdict… at least for many.

The prosecution made terrible decisions along the way, while the defense seemed to make every “right” choice.  After watching  O.J. Simpson: Blood, Lies & Murder, OJ’s guilt seems so obvious.  Then again, I didn’t buy in to the conspiracy theories at the time of the trial.

O.J. Simpson: Blood, Lies & Murder earns 4 of 5 stars.

“You Nazty Spy!” (1940) starring The Three Stooges / Z-View

You Nazty Spy! (1940)

Director:  Jules White

Writer:  Clyde Bruckman, Felix Adler

Stars: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Don Beddoe, Dick Curtis, Charles Dorety, Ned Glass, Lorna Gray, John Rand and Al Thompson.

Tagline: A World of Laughs in the Wackiest Hit in This Gaga Globe!

The Plot…

Three weapons manufacturers in the country of Moronica realize that a war will increase their profits. They need a stupid dictator to start the war.  They choose Moe to be their fall guy and Larry & Curly to be his field marshals.  With these idiots as figureheads, what could go wrong?

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

You Nazty Spy was the first Hollywood film to satirize Adolph Hitler and Nazis.  It was released nine months before Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.  It’s interesting to consider that when You Nazty Spy was made, the US was two years away from entering World War II.

Moe Howard and Larry Fine named You Nazty Spy as their favorite of all the Stooges shorts.  It was popular enough to spawn a Stooges sequel, I’ll Never Heil Again!

You Nazty Spy is a classic, full of slapstick, sight gags, and wordplay.

You Nazty Spy earns 5 of 5 stars.

Alexander Graham Bell: Surprising Facts You May Not Know!

Most everyone knows that Alexander Graham Bell is credited with inventing the telephone.  After reading 10 Things You May Not Know About Alexander Graham Bell at History.com, I learned more interesting trivia about him.  Before you click over, here are three of my favorites…

Bell developed a wireless telephone. (He called it a photophone which used light to transmit sound! This is ore than 100 years before cell phones.  Although technology of the time prevented it from being used widespread, Bell considered it his greatest invention. – Craig)

He invented a rudimentary metal detector in a quest to save the life of a president. (Bell was brought in to assist in an attempt to save President Garfield’s life.  Sadly, Bell was unsuccessful, hampered by Garfield’s doctor and wire bedsprings! – Craig)

Picking the last item was tough so here’s a combo: Thanks to Bell, Helen Keller met Annie Sullivan; Bell designed a world record holding speedboat; the unit of sound measurement, decibels is named for him and all phone service in the US and Canada was silenced for one full minute the day Bell was buried.  Click over to the article for full details on these and other facts about Alexander Graham Bell. – Craig

“It Ain’t Over” – The Trailer is Here!

While I’m not a regular viewer of baseball (by any stretch), I’d like to see It Ain’t Over.

Only in theaters in the New York Tri-State Area and Los Angeles May 12. Coming soon to a theater near you.

Directed By: Sean Mullin

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra is one of baseball’s greatest. He amassed ten World Series rings, 3 MVP awards and 18 All-Star Game appearances. He caught the only perfect game in World Series history. Yet for many his deserved stature was overshadowed by his simply being himself and being recognized more for his unique personality, TV commercial appearances and unforgettable “Yogi-isms,” initially head-scratching philosophical nuggets that make a lot more sense the more you think about them. In telling the whole story, It Ain’t Over gives Berra his due in following the life of a savvy, commanding, bad-ball hitting catcher with a squat frame but also a D-Day veteran, loving husband and father and, yes, product endorser and originator (mostly) of his own brand of proverbs now ingrained into everyday life. Granddaughter Lindsay Berra tells his story along with his sons, former Yankee teammates, players he managed, writers, broadcasters, and admirers (such as Billy Crystal), plus photos and footage on and off the diamond. Berra famously said, “I’d be pretty dumb if I started being something I’m not,” and It Ain’t Over lovingly makes clear he stayed who he was for the benefit of baseball and everyone else.

“What The Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” – The Poster and Trailer are Here!

I want to see WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS?.  Check out the trailer below, and you may want to as well.

A political thriller with a classic rock band at the heart of the action, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS? is a feature-length documentary that unravels the details of the band’s controversial Iron Curtain Tour, featuring present-day interviews with band members and historians, the unsealing of government records, and documentary footage that has been suppressed for over 50 years. In Select Theaters March 2023.